A new report from analytics firm Pixalate finds that over 813,000 apps have been removed from the Apple App Store and Google Play in the first half of 2021. There are certain common themes among these removed apps, the biggest of which is that the vast majority (86%) were targeting children.
The Apple App Store had a distinct problem with a lack of privacy policies (59%), despite the platform’s recent mandatory privacy changes. Google Play’s area of focus was dangerous permissions (66%) that could potentially skim personal information or locally saved data from user devices.
Apple App Store and Google Play removed apps for child targeting, lack of terms of service
Pixalate’s study does not track the specific reason given by the Apple App Store or Google Play for the removal (something that is not always made available to the public). It instead examines the removed apps for indicators that are likely to have raised a red flag with either app store.
Android apps more likely to have dangerous permissions
On the other hand, Android apps were more likely to have at least one dangerous permission: 66% of Google Play’s removed apps, to a mere 8% on the Apple App Store. The study defines “dangerous permissions” as a list of 30 functions that are very prone to abuse: these include writing to external storage automatically, initiating a phone call without going through the dialer, recording audio, and reading from/writing to the contacts list.
The removed apps were not all rinky-dink software downloaded by only a few unfortunate souls. The study documented about 20,000 apps that had at least 100,000 user downloads prior to de-listing. In total, the removed apps were downloaded 9.2 billion times in the first half of this year. Additionally, they collectively had about 21.8 million user ratings prior to removal. Delisted apps in Asia tended to have the best ratings prior to being removed: China, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea were the top four countries in rating removed apps highly prior to their disappearance, and Japan and Taiwan were also in the top 10.
Apps are not necessarily required to list a country of registration, and the removed apps took full advantage – 74% did not bother listing an address. Of the relative few that did, the majority were in the US (6%) or India (4%). There was a fairly wide distribution across the rest of the world with no single country cracking 1%.
The US was also the leader in removed apps with dangerous permissions, at 74%. Some other countries were very close: the UK, India and South Korea were all over 70%. 25% of the delisted apps in the US had access to the camera. Microphone access was most common in South Korea (15%), but the US and China were not far behind (13%).
The most popular Google Play apps among the delisted came from Google themselves: Cloud Print (1 billion downloads), Google Japanese Input and Google PDF Viewer (100 million each). This does not necessarily mean that these apps were compromising devices; the most likely explanation is that they were flagged for having at least one questionable permission. Cloud Print was scuttled by Google in January as it was primarily used for printing on Chrome devices, which gained native printing ability at the beginning of the year. PDF Viewer was also deprecated after Chrome was given that functionality.